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Album Reviews August 2021

Album Reviews August 2021
Album reviews

Shaybo: Queen of the South review – the Lewisham rapper shows a soft side

by Kadish Morris on 22nd August 2021 at 2:00 pm (Black Butter)The dancehall-influenced artist comes of age on a star-studded mixtape full of confidenceTo call yourself Queen of the South before ever releasing an album could easily be a hostage to fortune, but for Shaybo, who has been making viral freestyle videos since 2011, it’s the throne she’s been hand-carving from the age of 15. Still, the Nigerian-born Lewisham rapper has matured in recent years, and her new mixtape, featuring the likes of Jorja Smith and Wale, is a collection of songs that has definitely come of age.The dancehall influence is the biggest thread in the tapestry of this project. From the first track, Real One, Shaybo rides the beat with a flow reminiscent of Jamaican singers Spice and Lady Saw: “Money real long. Shoes Italian… Me a real, real don. I need a real real one,” she sings. Shaybo knows how to make her listeners put two gun fingers in the air. While there are instances here that exhibit the gritty storytelling that Shaybo is best known for, as on My Sister, a song about overcoming a bad relationship, Queen of the South finds her exploring the flipside of her “gangsta” persona. Sensual, sultry and vulnerable ruminations on love are in abundance. “Call me Miss Naive. I’m so silly. Look at how you treat me,” she weeps on Carry & Go. Continue reading…

Orla Gartland: Woman on the Internet review – a headlong dive into twentysomething life

by Emily Mackay on 22nd August 2021 at 12:00 pm (New Friends)This beautifully crafted debut spans pop-punk to indie rock, with knife-sharp lyrics all the way“There’s no manual, and if there is, I haven’t read it,” asserts 26-year-old singer-songwriter Orla Gartland, a Dubliner transplanted to London, on Things That I’ve Learned, the opening track of her long-in-the-crafting debut. Thus primed, she tips the listener headlong into the scrum that is your 20s, when self-doubt and growing self-assurance wrestle one another to the mat. The emotional wrangle is skilfully handled, knife-sharp, funny lyrics carving out beautifully structured songs – co-produced by Gartland – with never a note wasted, dancing nimbly across styles. The thrillingly rushy You’re Not Special, Babe finds her knocking grandiose little traumas wittily into perspective over romping riffs and pulsing beats full of clean young energy. Zombie! tries on early-80s power pop, Pat Benatar-style, as it mourns the fate of men trapped in rigid macho posturing.The “woman on the internet” of the album title appears first on the gleaming, Lorde-like More Like You, a wellbeing guru urging self-love as a cure for envy. In Pretending, she’s a social media makeup maven from whom Gartland learns an eyeshadow look to hide her social anxiety behind at a party. The song evolves from pop-punk dynamics to richly emotional, expansive indie rock as she asks herself “who are you so afraid to be?” – an object lesson that the only advice the impressively self-possessed Gartland needs is her own. Continue reading…

Chris Barber: A Trailblazer’s Legacy – the evolution of a jazz hero

by Dave Gelly on 21st August 2021 at 3:00 pm (The Last Music Co)The late bandleader’s 70-year career packed in restless shifts of style, virtuoso skill and guest spots from jazz’s bestWhen Chris Barber died, aged 90, in March, he had only recently retired after leading a band for 70 years. You can’t celebrate that with an album and a few notes, especially with music as popular and wide-ranging as his. So what we have here is a package of four CDs and a book tracing Barber’s career as one track follows another. With its leader playing trombone, and occasionally double bass, Chris Barber’s Jazz Band combined New Orleans-style traditional jazz with whatever else caught his fancy. The results were sometimes quite spectacular.The eighth of these 69 tracks, from 1956, has the band’s banjo player, Lonnie Donegan, singing Rock Island Line with bass and washboard accompaniment. It sparked a nationwide craze for amateur skiffle groups, without which there would have been no Beatles. Unlike other trad bands, Barber’s never got stuck in a rut. Every record, every tour was a fresh start. As the tracks roll on we hear blues, gospel, ragtime and guest stars such as Louis Jordan, Joe Harriott, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Dr John, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee. One late recording, from 2010, features a lively Jools Holland. Continue reading…

Lorde: Solar Power review – she has earned her wistful, floaty record

by Kitty Empire on 21st August 2021 at 1:00 pm (EMI)Like Lana Del Rey and Taylor Swift before her, the New Zealand star embraces mellowness on a third album shaded by climate anxiety and a rejection of celebritySometimes, Solar Power – Lorde’s long-awaited third album – feels like the polar opposite of her second, 2017’s Melodrama: it is filled with calm, sun-kissed serenity. Over 12 outdoorsy but often inward-looking tracks, the 24-year-old New Zealand pop sensation seems to bid adieu to the toxic and the fraught, the garish and the busy. If the mood of the album’s title track – and its eye-catching video, in which dancers gyrate cultishly around Lorde’s “prettier Jesus” – felt tremendously beach-ready, the rest of Solar Power is dappled with late-afternoon shade. The album’s pace never really recaptures the Primal Scream vibes of the single.But the album is not much poorer for this equanimity, with its former teen star, elevated to instant mega-fame in the 2010s, pondering past lives, present happiness and future uncertainty with some deft writing, a gauzy feel and the odd Beatles melody. The drums are a kit, not a program; there are susurrations and New York sirens lurking within the production, lending depth and breadth.The album will not be released on CD, but as a more eco-conscious Music Box format Related: Lorde: ‘I’m not a climate activist. I’m a pop star’ Continue reading…

Deafheaven: Infinite Granite review – rock at its most majestically beautiful

by Michael Hann on 20th August 2021 at 8:00 am (Sargent House)Fifth album by San Francisco band finds intense and yes, ethereal, shoegaze taking over from black metal Each new Deafheaven album has seemed to react against the last, changing moods and textures without ever sacrificing their heaviness. Infinite Granite might be their most startling gesture yet: though elements can be traced back to 2018’s Ordinary Corrupt Human Love, it takes those elements and expands them to album length. Infinite Granite, really, is not a metal album. It’s the album where the shoegaze entirely supplants the black metal in their blackgaze equation. Continue reading…

Native Soul: Teenage Dreams | Ammar Kalia’s global album of the month

by Ammar Kalia on 20th August 2021 at 7:30 am (Awesome Tapes From Africa)The teenage duo channel the newest mutation of their country’s house music, amapiano, coaxing us back to the shared space of the dancefloorHouse music, and the glorious tension between its on-beat and its syncopated elements, has long been a sound associated with South Africa. From the languorous tempos of sample-heavy kwaito, a subgenre established in post-apartheid townships in Johannesburg, to the Pretorian call-and-response of diBacardi, and the adrenalised polyrhythms of gqom – a raw, bass-heavy recapitulation of kwaito, founded in the early 2010s in Durban – these dance musics have often been a vital means of self-expression for the country’s socially segregated youth. Related: ‘It speaks to an ancient history’: why South Africa has the world’s most exciting dance music Continue reading…

Sean Shibe: Camino | Erica Jeal’s classical album of the week

by Erica Jeal on 19th August 2021 at 2:18 pm (Pentatone)Shibe’s playing buzzes with vitality in this revelatory new recordingYou might think you know what Spanish guitar music sounds like, and you might think it an unexpectedly middle-of-the-road choice for Sean Shibe, who has always appeared more at home in programmes that set your ears slightly off-kilter: for example, juxtaposing whispering lute music with screaming electric guitar works by Julia Wolfe, as on his 2018 album softLOUD. But there’s nothing hackneyed about Camino. It’s a beautifully intimate recording, full of playing that is as far from classical-guitar cliche as a real flamenco dancer is from a postcard of a donkey in a sombrero. Related: Sean Shibe review – a nonchalant virtuoso and boundary breaker Continue reading…

Lorde: Solar Power review – waking up from the nightmare of fame

by Alexis Petridis on 19th August 2021 at 12:00 pm (Universal Music New Zealand/EMI Records)Equipped with lovely melodies and a bombast-resistant sound, the New Zealander exchanges the spotlight for a sly reflection on true happinessPlenty of mainstream pop stars have decided they no longer want to be mainstream pop stars. They’ve tried everything to achieve their goal, from making deliberately unlistenable albums, to – in the memorable case of the late Scott Walker – locking themselves in a monastery on the Isle of Wight.But few have attempted to bid farewell to mainstream pop stardom as prettily as Lorde does on her third album. It opens with a guitar picking a gentle, woozy-sounding figure. A flute glides beatifically by and Lorde offers a grim depiction of life as a teenager superstar – complete with “nightmares from the camera flash” – before apparently saying goodbye to all that: “alone on a windswept island”, she “won’t take the call if it’s the label or radio”. “If you’re looking for a saviour,” she adds, “that’s not me”, which would sound a little self-aggrandising had the world of online fandom not become so overheated that whenever a female pop star posts anything on social media, the responses are clogged up by stans calling them “mum”, “queen” and “goddess”. Related: Lorde: ‘I’m not a climate activist. I’m a pop star’ Continue reading…

Jade Bird: Different Kinds of Light review – verging on the unstoppable

by Emily Mackay on 15th August 2021 at 2:00 pm (Glassnote)The singer-songwriter continues to impress on a second album that beguiles equally in its rockier and softer moments“Swear I’ve got a sign written on my back,” storms Jade Bird on Candidate, a raw-edged rock bruiser about being a dickhead-magnet. With her second album, the English singer (who attended the Brit School and is now based in the US) is concerned with confounding first impressions made by 2019’s Jade Bird, an arresting debut of Americana-tinged pop rock driven by remarkable songcraft and that sweetly serrated force-10 voice.And yet for all the avowed influences here – Blur! Oasis! the Bee Gees! Iggy Pop! PJ Harvey! – it’s to her credit that it still sounds very much like Jade Bird, though notably rockier. There’s a heaviness of guitar and intent that suits her well, from the dirty, chunky riffs and raw howl of Open Up the Heavens to the Sladey stomp of Honeymoon. Her softer shades are just as beguiling: Punchline leans in to the expansive class of Nashville’s session musicians (the album was recorded at the storied RCA studios), a rich country-rock short story flashing images such as “a wedding band, thrown out the window of a black sedan”, while Red White and Blue is a delicately killer acoustic ballad. Continue reading…

The Killers: Pressure Machine review – their best album in years

by Damien Morris on 15th August 2021 at 12:00 pm (EMI)Frontman Brandon Flowers channels his Utah childhood on this lush, uncharacteristically reflective albumThis country has two more national anthems than most: God Save the Queen, Three Lions and the Killers’ Mr Brightside, a song so anthemic it punches the air in its sleep. Yet the US band have never written a great ballad. This album still doesn’t deliver one, but it’s gentler and more introspective than usual. Singer Brandon Flowers – still stentorian, still pleading, a Meat Loaf Springsteen – explores Our Town, America through 11 dramatic monologues based on his Utah childhood. There’s a married cop who kills his girlfriend’s abusive husband, a yearning assembly lineman, an opioid addict, various down-homes nursing their “barbed wire dreams”.Previously, the greedy brilliance of the Killers’ music diverted attention away from gauche lyrics such as “are we human or are we dancer”. It seems Flowers often wavers between poetic and demotic, then misses both. Is cutting grass or cooking eggs in bacon grease “working class”? And “it’s our local hero sports bar” doesn’t feel like something a human – or dancer – would say. Still, there are piquant observations set to lush soundtracks, and Flowers’s profound empathy is palpable. Probably their best album since 2004’s Hot Fuss. Continue reading…

Jungle: Loving in Stereo review – hitting the neon dancefloor hard

by Kitty Empire on 15th August 2021 at 8:00 am (Caiola)A little bit hip-hop, a little bit spangled funk… Josh Lloyd-Watson and Tom McFarland take a more organic approach, and it worksDisco’s spinning glitterball shows no sign of slowing. Across two preceding albums, feel-good west London electronica outfit Jungle have tended towards tasteful, club-oriented soul. If their sound has sometimes strayed close to high-end muzak, their videos have kept bevies of dancers in high-energy, expressive work.Loving in Stereo now finds Josh Lloyd-Watson and Tom McFarland hitting the neon dancefloor hard. This album’s first single, Keep Movin’, packs in all the 70s signifiers: scything strings, falsetto vocals and pumping groove. Album closer Can’t Stop the Stars adds parping horns and omnipresent shimmer. Continue reading…

GA-20: Try It… You Might Like It! review – a rowdy blast of primal blues

by Neil Spencer on 14th August 2021 at 3:00 pm (Colemine/Alligator)This unusual US trio of two guitars and drums keep things fierce and simple on their homage to the great Chicago bluesman Hound Dog TaylorWhen the young Bruce Iglauer witnessed a performance by Hound Dog Taylor and the HouseRockers in 1971, he created a record label so he could sign them. Iglauer was a 23-year-old blues fanatic and Taylor an unrecorded 54-year-old veteran of the Chicago blues scene, though his music reached back further, to the first stirrings of postwar electrified blues. Half a century on, Iglauer’s Alligator imprint is the world’s premier blues label, while Taylor, who died in 1975, is commemorated by this appealingly unvarnished tribute.Named after a vintage Gibson amplifier, GA-20 are a trio dedicated to the raucous joys of early Chicago blues, the music of Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf and, their favourite, Hound Dog Taylor. They are unapologetic equipment buffs, using only antique instruments, and if you care to know how a rowdy 1950s Chicago jook joint sounded, GA-20 are here to help. With an unusual bass-free lineup of two guitars and drums, they keep things simple and fierce; scything, growling riffs, driving grooves and defiant vocals. Itchy, blistering boogies such as She’s Gone and Let’s Get Funky epitomise their visceral approach, amid a smattering of slower outings. Antique maybe, but a reminder that the blues retain their odd, primal power. Continue reading…

Classical home listening: Bruch, Prokofiev and Schumann

by Fiona Maddocks on 14th August 2021 at 11:00 am The Nash Ensemble are the ideal advocates for Bruch’s chamber music; and violist Timothy Ridout takes on an entire ballet and song cycle• His Violin Concerto No 1 in G minor and the Scottish Fantasy aside, does Max Bruch deserve to be so sorely neglected? It may not be a question to lose sleep over, but let these five elite chamber musicians convert you to the cause. Bruch: String Quartet No 2, Romance, Op 85, Four Pieces, Op 70 and Piano Trio in C minor, Op 5 (Hyperion) is played by members of the Nash Ensemble: Stephanie Gonley and Jonathan Stone (violins), Lawrence Power (viola), Adrian Brendel (cello) and Simon Crawford-Phillips (piano). It follows a Hyperion disc, also from the Nash, of his Octet and Quintets. You won’t find better advocates. Continue reading…

Andrew Cyrille Quartet: The News review – rolling coverage from octogenarian jazz hero

by John Fordham on 13th August 2021 at 8:00 am (ECM)The 81-year-old drummer deploys crisp cymbals, hushed snares and even brushes on newspaper for this entrancing set alongside Bill Frisell, Ben Street and David VirellesIt would be tempting to say that, at 81, Andrew Cyrille has probably forgotten more than most drummers have ever learned about stretching tempo and creating space for improvisers to thrive in – that is, if it didn’t do such a disservice to the Haitian-American master’s respect for his fellow players. Over six decades with stars from swing-sax pioneer Coleman Hawkins to Carla Bley and uncompromising piano virtuoso Cecil Taylor, Cyrille has learned all about jazz’s rich complexities – and then sought to distil them into ever simpler essentials in projects of his own. Continue reading…

Joy Orbison: Still Slipping Vol 1 review – walking away from the dancefloor

by Tayyab Amin on 13th August 2021 at 7:30 am (XL Recordings)The UK producer, a defining figure for more than a decade of underground dance, creates a stream of nostalgic, intimate tracks for his first full-length releaseCountless fans of the UK underground can trace their best club experiences back to London producer/DJ Joy Orbison. You could fill an entire dancefloor with anecdotes about his tracks: the catharsis of synth-y debut Hyph Mngo; the curiously quotable vocal cut-ups threaded through Sicko Cell, Ellipsis and Swims; every baptism in the submerging bass of Brthdtt; the decade-long yearn for unreleased cult hit GR Etiquette, and the collective jubilation last March when it was finally released for charity.While Joy Orbison’s earlier releases helped define an era of underground electronic music, they’ve never quite defined him. In recent years he has collaborated with rave luminaries Overmono and maverick saxman Ben Vince, hosted radio broadcasts both on Radio 1 and in Grand Theft Auto, and peeled far away from floorfillers on 2019 EP Slipping. He continues down a left-field path on this new mixtape: the first full-length project of his 12-year career. Continue reading…

Hindemith: Mathis der Maler review – vivid version of an unmistakably political opera

by Andrew Clements on 12th August 2021 at 5:34 pm Wolfgang Koch/Kurt Streit/Manuela Uhl/Vienna SO/Bertrand de Billy(Naxos, Blu-ray or 2 DVDs)The visionary story of an artist caught up in social turmoil still resonates in this superbly conducted productionMathis der Maler is easily the best known of Paul Hindemith’s nine operas, but its music is more often encountered in the concert hall than the opera house, thanks to the symphony that the composer extracted from his score. Since it was first seen, in Zurich in 1937, subsequent stagings have been few and far between – the Hamburg Opera brought it to the Edinburgh festival in 1952, but Mathis der Maler did not reach the London stage until the Royal Opera’s production in 1995. This recording (which is also being released next month by Capriccio in an audio-only version) is taken from a production by Keith Warner at the Theater an der Wien in Vienna in 2012. Continue reading…

Jana Rush: Painful Enlightenment review – an electronic visionary

by Ben Beaumont-Thomas on 12th August 2021 at 11:00 am (Planet Mu)The Chicago producer finds new emotional depths to the footwork genre, confronting depression and overwork in stunningly original musicFew music genres have generated as much invention and perspiration in recent years as footwork, the Chicago-born dance style where pumping tempos of house are ratcheted up as if by a sadistic personal trainer to the point where they seem to stutter and gasp for air. The chopped samples and snapping percussion of rap add structure back into the mix, though the cornea-detaching bass threatens to undo it all again.Only the most nimble and athletic dancers can truly keep up with this aural pandemonium, making the style popular among showboating dance crews. The extremity also endears it to the gothic chinstrokers of the avant-electronic scene, meaning that your average footwork event is likely to contain both the most and least awkward people you can imagine. Chicago heroes such as RP Boo and the late DJ Rashad went global and released landmark LPs in the early 2010s, and the curation of UK label Planet Mu has helped to keep the scene healthy outside the midwest (as well as Painful Enlightenment, it also released DJ Manny’s excellent Signals in My Head last month). At a time when the big pianos and vocal lines of Chicago house are used by lazy producers to signify euphoria rather than actually generate it, footwork is a reminder of how progressive and emotionally rich dance music can be. And with her second album, Jana Rush pushes it further than ever before. Related: Fancy footwork: how Chicago’s juke scene found its feet again Continue reading…

Ishmael Ensemble: Visions of Light review – a sax, strings and synths epic

by Kate Hutchinson on 8th August 2021 at 2:00 pm (Severn Songs)There are shades of Jon Hopkins, Bon Iver, Soulwax and more, but the Bristol collective’s second album has a scope and grace all its ownIt’s not easy to pull off an evocative, densely layered epic of sax, strings, synths and singing while maintaining a soft-as-silk touch, but Bristol’s Ishmael Ensemble have achieved that gorgeous balance on their second album. Loosely associated with the UK jazz scene, ringleader Pete Cunningham and co’s sound has more in common with Atoms for Peace, Jon Hopkins or Bon Iver. Here, they weave harp glissando, rippling keys and propulsive beats with a lambent flair that grows richer with every listen.Wax Werk, with its pitched-up vocal and deep womp, feels like a Four Tet-style sliver of stammering electronica until the sax rises into a skronky noise freakout. Soma Centre turns into a sultry electro stomper that wouldn’t be out of place on a Soulwax record. Continue reading…

Fredo: Independence Day review – dark wit and supersized swagger

by Damien Morris on 8th August 2021 at 12:00 pm (Sony)Stunning verses propelled by intricate production elevate the west London rapper’s second album this year Marvin “Fredo” Bailey has always made much of his west London roots, so it’s jarring to find that he’s named his second album of the year after an American holiday. No matter. Independence Day is as English as EastEnders, but what was once soap is now opera. Fredo’s gruff truculence is supersized, given widescreen swagger by the propulsive production, a dense lattice of piano, strings and subtle samples. Always articulate and intelligent, the word cloud hovering over his busy brain has barely changed since his early mixtapes. Prison. “Opps” (enemies) trying to drag him down. Drugs. Money, and the creeping paranoia that comes with it. Women – rarely to be trusted, even if they gave birth to you.Predictable enough, yet so persuasive in Fredo’s relentless, rolling thunder flow. “I don’t write songs in English, they’re written in pain,” he raps, and you believe it. Some verses, particularly on Freestyle and Talk of the Town, are stunning, approaching the heights of Mercury-winning mate and Funky Friday collaborator Dave. Fredo may not yet be the GOAT (greatest of all time) for storytelling, but with his dark wit and wordplay, he’s now grazing in the same field. Continue reading…

Ider: Shame review – another classy deep dive

by Kitty Empire on 8th August 2021 at 8:00 am (Believe)Megan Markwick and Lily Somerville call the shots once more on this freewheeling follow-up to 2019’s superb Emotional Education Historically, young women’s music has been overseen by older men: producers, label owners. While removing one gender from the creative equation is neither easy nor desirable – of course men are capable of allyship – one of the pleasures of Ider is that these two twentysomething British female pop auteurs talk directly to their peers in a way that feels largely unmediated.Megan Markwick and Lily Somerville’s debut, Emotional Education (2019), captured the experience of being young and at sea, aware of the contradictions of adulthood but still possessed of a freewheeling sense of possibility. Synths combined with moody pop and melancholic R&B to make Ider a name to watch. Continue reading…

Photo by cottonbro from Pexels

 

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